By Katrin Bennhold

March 19, International Herald Tribune

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Tuesday that the European Union should consider punishing China's crackdown in Tibet with a boycott of the opening ceremony of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing.

His comments followed an appeal by the press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders to governments across the world to shun the highly symbolic ceremony during which the Olympic flame is lighted.

European leaders have been conspicuously quiet since protesters and the Chinese police first clashed in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, a week ago.

China on Tuesday called for an international investigation of the Dalai Lama, who condemned the violence that has erupted from the Tibetan demonstrations. He threatened to resign as leader of Tibet's government in exile "if things become out of control."

How to exert pressure on Beijing touches a broader debate in the European Union about how the bloc should manage its relationships with important economic partners such as China and Russia, whose governments are accused of violating democratic standards.

Senior European officials, including Kouchner, have ruled out an outright boycott of the Olympics, arguing that not even the Dalai Lama had demanded one. But in the latest sign that the Games remain the most powerful lever Western powers have, the foreign minister called the idea of a more symbolic partial boycott "interesting."

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photo: To protest Chinese actions in Tibet, signs were placed Tuesday on figures in the Terracotta Army exhibit at the British Museum. (Mark Trepte/The Associated Press)